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Godwin's Clan - 4: The Making of an Earl - Harold's Climb to 'Sub-Regulus' [Part Two]

England's earldoms in 1066 after Tostig was ousted from Northumbria. His brother Harold retained Wessex whilst taking the mantle of kingship in January.

England's earldoms in 1066 after Tostig was ousted from Northumbria. His brother Harold retained Wessex whilst taking the mantle of kingship in January.

With the Welsh quiet for the time being...

attention was taken again by the news of the death of the emperor Heanrig (Henry/Heinrich). Another attempt would be made to bring back the exiles, the son and grandson of Eadmund 'Ironside'. The emperor's young son was amenable to allowing Eadward 'the Exile' safe passage through his domain from western Hungary, and this time Harold would take centre stage as mediator. He could speak to kings or emperors as if he were one of them. Although there is no direct reference to him being involved, there are pointers to this being the case. Harold's name as 'Harold Ducis' is found on the witness list of a diploma issued by his brother-in-law Count Baldwin V of Flanders at St. Omer.

He may already have set out on hearing of the old emperor's death. Baldwin went on from St. Omer to Cologne to broker a peace with Agnes of Poitiers, Heanrig IV's regent and Harold would have joined his party with a view to being introduced to Agnes, and to explain why he was there. At Cologne he was likely to have been successful in gaining her support, possibly also of the Pontiff Victor II. The party then moved on to Regensburg on the Danube for the Christmas Court, and here Harold would have opened talks with King Andrew of Hungary on the possibility of the exiled aetheling and his young family, and with the aetheling himself. He would, after all, be travelling to a strange land where he had blood ties with a he had never set eyes on. A land he had not really known from infancy awaited, perhaps the kingdom if he outlived his namesake. Doubtless he had to be satisfied his family would be safe from harm on the long journey. Andrew would have been offered a 'sop' to release a man from his oath of allegiance, a man who had helped secure his throne in his youth some years earlier. Whilst Andrew and the aetheling Eadward came to an agreement Harold went on with Victor to Rome for the Easter festivities of AD1057. The 'Vita Eadwardi' mentions the business in what was termed 'Frankish territory', reflecting a faint echo of the mission but not saying outright that Harold was involved. The later 'Vita Haroldi' possibly confuses the mission with the visit together with Tostig when Harold collected relics for his church at Waltham - as listed in the reliquium - and therefore verifying the account. Harold would have returned by way of Bavaria, where he joined the aetheling and his colourful* retinue for the crossing of Frankia, and the sea crossing onward to Dover.

Aside from Harold having been in Flanders in November AD 1056, and that he was in Rome there is no direct evidence of his links with these events. The religious relics given to Waltham shows some evidence of travelling in the regions mentioned and it is known he brought relics from Ghent, Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) Cologne and Worms on his way from St. Omer to Regensburg perhaps - but it might be too much of a coincidence that the items all came from places on the route described above. The relics could have been gathered at other times, but would not be easy fitting them into Harold's itinerary at any other time. Other than this circumstantial evidence nothing can tie the earl in with any of the events, but it is known that Harold was nowhere to be seen in England around July or August AD 1056 or before the autumn of AD 1057 when Eadward 'the Exile' landed at Dover, which is recorded in the Chronicle as being just before Earl Leofric died on September 30th. After the failure of Ealdred's mission someone with considerably more diplomatic skill had to have been involved in the exile's return to England. In the light of evidence of his achievements in Wales, he could well have been involved.

Unluckily the aetheling had not long been in England before he died mysteriously without meeting his namesake the king. In the scheme of things King Eadmund's son had seniority over his kinsman the king through his father being issue of an earlier marriage than Aethelred's to Emma. The coming of the child aetheling Eadgar with his mother Agatha and sisters Margarethe and Christina provided the heirless king and queen with an 'instant' family. The Chronicle referred to Eadgar's kingship as being 'his proper due'. How the exile died, or what of, is not recorded either in the Chronicle or royal documents. Another page would be turned in the annals. It seemed that Knut's wish to have the sons of Eadmund 'Ironside' out of the way would be fulfilled after all.

On the death of Earl Leofric of Mercia in September, AD 1057 his widespread political weight would have devolved on his son Aelfgar. Eadward was not in a position to prevaricate, since he had allowed Harold to take over Wessex on Godwin's death. At this time also Harold's younger brother Gyrth was given the vacated earldom of East Anglia. Earl Ralph had died leaving a young son, Harold, in the care of Eadgytha until AD 1066. Nothing more is known of him. The earldom had to be allocated quickly but the nearest candidate Aelfgar was unlikely to be welcomed by Hereford's former defenders. Being untested, neither of Harold's younger brothers was considered, Hereford being on the 'front line'. At around this time Leofwin Godwinson was awarded the earldom of Essex and part of East Kent, safe from attacks by either of the Welsh princes or any other outsiders at the time. So it befell King Eadward to allocate Herefordshire to Wessex under Harold.

The upshot of the AD 1057 changes was that Aelfgar was the only earl in England not of the Godwin clan. Knut's three senior earls had sired sons of their own but Siward's eldest Osbeorn was slain fighting MacBeothen (Macbeth) in Scotland. Leofric's only other son had died some years before Leofric himself, and that left Godwin's male offspring, of whom one - Svein - was now out of the picture. Ralph's infant son was in the care of the queen, and Earl Odda left no offspring. At the time of his father Siward's death, Waltheof was too young to take over any earldom, let alone Northumbria - the kingdom's equivalent of the 'Wild West' - and he would have to wait until after Eadward's death to be given the responsibility of a newly created earldom of Middle Anglia by Harold (Northamptonshire-Cambridgeshire borders, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Earl Aelfgar may have been worried about being ringed by Harold and his brothers. Tostig's lands were to his north and east, Harold's to his south. In a bid to strengthen his position Aelfgar arranged the marriage of his young daughter Ealdgyth to the ageing Gruffyd ap Llewellyn. When Aelfgar in died in AD 1063 his son Eadwin was still callow and inexperienced, only a few years or so older than Waltheof. In sealing a marriage between his daughter and the Welsh prince in AD 1058 a second banishment loomed over him. Another ally was added in the form of the West Norse heir Magnus Haraldsson with his fleet. With this added military weight Aelfgar hoped to win back his earldom. The Norsemen raided the coast north of the Mersey whilst the Welsh pressed on Herefordshire's boundary. Magnus Haraldsson's attacks would surely be the trigger for Tostig to join his brother in over-running Gruffyd's home-ground of Gwynedd (it seems odd that eight years on he would be allied to Magnus's uncle, Harald Sigurdsson, in an invasion to regain his own earldom from another of Aelfgar's sons, Morkere).

Domesday recorded Tostig's lands in Amounderness as 'waste' in AD 1086 - almost thirty years after the event; whether this was due to the Norse attack or later Norman activity in AD 1069 is unknown (the earldom stretched east to west at the time from the mouths of the Humber to the Mersey).

Gruffyd had raided King Eadward's western borders without reprisals from Aelfgar, and he had beaten off several attempts to stop him. He was plainly a threat to Eadward's kingdom and needed to be cut down to size. With his alliance to Aelfgar, and the Mercians being unwilling to tangle with 'their' earl it looked almost impossible to tackle him. Nor was it likely in the foreseeable future that the alliance would come to a close again. Aelfgar would need to secure his standing with his Mercian underlings, and when he did so he would be within the king's jurisdiction - even if it meant having to do without Mercian help again. Eadward and Harold would wait.

Little detail was entered in the Chronicle between the years of AD 1057-65; AD 1058 was known to have been hectic but all that is recorded in the 'D' version is: "...It is tedious to relate fully how things went. Events notwithstanding, Harold found time to oversee the decoration of and to attend the dedication of his newly erected collegiate church at Waltham. This was performed on May 3rd, AD 1060, the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross. Archbishop Cynesige of York was present instead of the ecclesiastically dubious Archbishop Stigand, in whose jurisdiction the church was. The king and queen also graced the proceedings with their presence at the eight days of feasting and merrymaking, along with eleven bishops, the same number of abbots as well as many earls and other laymen of high standing". Although no official list is available the formal confirmation charter of AD 1062 bears their names with the exception of that of Cynesige. Their names were set down in an earlier draft charter to be used as the grounding of the formal document. This would have been a worthy gathering for what was not even a royal church, showing how venerated Harold was at the time. He would have taken the opportunity here to present the relics he had obtained on his travels across the continent.

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The Earl of Wessex and his brothers could now flex their muscles, consolidate their position in the kingdom, attend the shire courts to see that the judicial machinery ran smoothly and in doing so extend their friendships with those of standing within their respective earldoms.

In AD 1061 Tostig and Gyrth felt secure enough to cross to Rome with Ealdred the newly appointed Archbishop of York (who had been unsuccessful in bringing Eadward the Exile to England). This was the only time Malcolm Canmore took advantage of Tostig's absence to raid Northumbria, including Lindisfarne. On the earl's return he withdrew and peace reigned in Northumbria again. It was around AD 1062 when the broad consensus of public opinion agrees that Earl Aelfgar died. He is not mentioned in the Chronicles between regaining his earldom - again - in AD 1058 and Eadwin being made earl in AD 1065 just before the time his brother Morkere was given the earldom of Northumbria and Tostig banished. Aelfgar supported the election of Wulfstan to the Bishopric of Worcester, that much is certain from a document dated August 27th, AD 1062. This seems to have been his last recorded act as Earl of Mercia. He would have died late in AD 1062, not long before Christmas whilst attending King Eadward's Christmas court at Gloucester. This was the trigger for Harold's strike at Gruffyd, when the prince would have been unaware of the earl's intentions without his friend tipping him off as he had not long before.

*According to Gabriel Ronay's book, 'The Lost King of England' Eadward the Exile arrived at Dover with men of his household retinue from Hungary in their decorative Magyar court regalia and side weaponry. This would be a very rare experience for both sides, the Hungarian warriors and the Kentish folk. It must have been the only time Eadward's family and retainers saw the sea in a day's crossing from Flanders. Unfortunately what the English made of the incomers is not recorded.

Harold had unwitting enemies, unwilling friends

There would be trouble ahead in 1065 with Earl Tostig, ousted in his absence when hunting with King Eadward in Wiltshire

There would be trouble ahead in 1065 with Earl Tostig, ousted in his absence when hunting with King Eadward in Wiltshire

Eadward, unwilling brother-in-law and king to Earl Harold - did he will the crown voluntarily to Harold at Christmas AD 1065, or was he badgered?

Eadward, unwilling brother-in-law and king to Earl Harold - did he will the crown voluntarily to Harold at Christmas AD 1065, or was he badgered?

See description below

See description below

A dynasty known across Northern Europe since Knut raised Godwin to the earldom of Wessex, they had their ups and downs, latterly more downs until after Harold's death on Caldbec Hill near Hastings when the rest of his family withdrew to Exeter with the exception of Eadward's queen Eadgytha who withdrew to Wilton. Read all about their meteoric rise, their relationships within the family and outward.

Dynastic marriage, common law relationship...

In the fullness of time Harold would wed Gruffyth's widow Ealdgyth in a dynastic marriage. There was still his common law marriage with Eadgytha 'Swan-neck', the East Anglian beauty who had borne him four sons and two daughters, Godwin, Eadmund, Magnus and Ulf/Wulf, Gytha and Gunnhild. At the time of Harold's death Aeldgifu was pregnant with Harold's son whom she would name Harold.

Godwin, in Scotland with his two younger brothers at the time sought to take the crown in 1068 but failed to raise the men in his lands - Somerset - against their Norman king. With their Dublin Danish backers they were beaten off on the Severn shore and in South Devon. Magnus was badly wounded and was taken to Bosham in West Sussex to recover. His older brothers went back to Dublin and - like Ealdgyth and young Harold - faded from history. It is thought Magnus 'took the cloth', and that Godwin and Eadmund went on to Flanders where they joined the womenfolk of the family at the court of Count Baldwin VI. Tostig's wife Judith would have been there with her sons Skuli and Ketil, who are thought to have gone on to Denmark - did Godwin and Eadmund go with them?

Next - 5: An Earl's Wealth

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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